Kade Web. Photo: Brandon Thibodeaux-The New York Times

Kade Web of Roseville, California bought Counterfeit Percocet through a dealer on Snapchat and died of fentanyl poisoning (Hoffman, 2022). The story of Kade is one of many in which kids as young as 12 are buying what they think are pills like Xanax, Percocet or Adderall through social media sites like Snapchat and TikTok. Sadly, many of them do NOT live to regret it. According to California state data, fentanyl deaths were rare just five years ago and now fentanyl is taking the life of a young person in California every 12 hours (McCormick, 2021). Recently in Oklahoma, a six-year-old boy got a hold of a counterfeit pill from his mother’s stash and died of fentanyl poisoning. The parents of the child are being charged with second degree manslaughter.

The Death Toll Involving Opiates Continues to Rise:

“National statistics show a huge surge in drug-related deaths during the pandemic, with fatalities leaping to more than 93,000 in 2020, a 32% rise from 2019. But no group has seen a faster rise than youth under 24, according to a Guardian analysis of 2020 federal data. Among this age group, accidental drug deaths increased by 50% in a single year – taking 7,337 young lives in 2020. Experts say a large portion of this increase is due to the vast quantities of fentanyl streaming into the US” (McCormick, 2021).

Law-enforcement are saying that a disturbing number of these fatalities are teenagers purchasing counterfeit pills through online social media sites. The district attorney for the case involving Kade says that 90% of the pills bought from dealers on social media are laced with fentanyl. At this point in our history, an individual is more likely to die from an opioid overdose than a car accident.

The reason fentanyl is so dangerous is because it is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. An amount as small as a few grains of salt can be lethal.

Zachariah Plunk, 17, died after buying a counterfeit Percocet from a dealer through Snapchat: Photo: New York Times

A young person who is not yet addicted and is experimenting with pills for the first time does not stand a chance. Even long-time users who have developed a tolerance for opiates are at risk because of how potent fentanyl is. This is why people are referring to these deaths as poisonings, not overdoses. Many of the dealers manufacturing these counterfeit pills are being charged with murder.

What is even more disturbing is that dealers are grooming new addicts by creating these counterfeit pills. Individuals think they are buying benzos or other pills and end up getting ones laced with fentanyl and become addicted…or worse. Even more terrifying is that they are designed to look authentic like the pharmaceutical brand, but they are not. Here is a link from the DEA showing fake pills vs authentic pills and their street names.

What Can We Do?

Now that you have this information, educate everyone about the dangers of fentanyl and counterfeit pills being sold online and on the streets. Talk to your kids! While these may be difficult conversations, we can all agree they are worth your child’s life. Because many of these tragedies are first time users, the signs of drug abuse such as erratic behaviors or lower grades are non-existent. Surprisingly, many people are still unaware that fentanyl even exists, or the threat it poses to their family. Many teens view pills as a ‘safer’ alternative to ‘harder’ drugs like heroin which is why they are being sought out on social media by dealers who are targeting them.

Don’t Use Alone

Many overdoses can be prevented by having another person available to call 911 in the case of an overdose or poisoning. Chances of poisoning skyrocket when someone buys pills online from an unknown source and takes them alone.

Carry Narcan

Narcan can reverse the effects of opioids in the brain. I have two 4mg doses in my purse as I write this post. Narcan works by blocking the effects of opioids and reversing an overdose. Opioids impact receptors in the brain that control breathing. Too much opioid can stop a person from breathing. Basically, if someone stops breathing or their breathing has slowed way down, administering Narcan can start them breathing again in a few minutes. Often times it takes only one dose. However, sometimes more is required if the opioid is an extremely strong one, like fentanyl. Narcan is about the size of any other nasal spray, so it is easy to carry or keep in your car, purse, or even your pocket. Click here for more information about Narcan.

Photo: DEA

Do not Buy Drugs Online or on the Street

With so many counterfeit drugs containing fentanyl, buying pills on social media sites (or on the streets) is like playing Russian roulette. 4 out of every 10 pills contain a lethal dose of fentanyl, which is almost half (DEA, 2021).